Foursquare To Start Using Full Names, Sharing More Of Your Data With Venues From January 28, According To New Privacy Policy

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Foursquare — which this year passed its three-billionth check-in, added 15 million more users to its network, and in October kicked off a new chapter as a stronger competitor to Yelp with more local information and reviews — is now updating its privacy policy to keep up. It has been sending out an email to its users informing them that as of January 28, it will add in two new items that will reveal more user data than before: the use of full names and the ability for businesses to access longer data logs for individuals.

And, perhaps taking a cue from all the drama around Instagram and Facebook’s recent changes to their terms of service, the location-based social information app did two other things: it picked the Saturday evening between Christmas and New Years (when we’re all still full of good cheer) to tell users about the changes (mine came into my inbox at 4.37AM London time, although Phandroid seems to have noticed it earlier); and Foursquare is pointing users and updated version of its simplified explanation of its terms — called Privacy 101 — to make it more accessible.

Privacy 101 is not new: the idea of offering an abridged, easier-to-grasp version of the legalese of privacy terms was something that the company first started highlighting in 2010, around the time that Facebook began to ramp up competition with Foursquare in the area of location-based services and check-ins.

The full name and venue data changes, meanwhile, are signs of how Foursquare is beefing up its big data offering: more information being shared with more people — and importantly, businesses as part of Foursquare’s local-commerce dashboard play. While neither change is tied directly to a revenue-generating service, having more data in the stream improves the experience for businesses using Foursquare, and that could eventually translate into more monetization opportunities for the company.

“Full names.” Foursquare says that from the end of January, users’ full names (not necessarily real names, though) will show up with each of your check-ins, available for all to see. Foursquare implies that it’s making the change to be less confusing: it’s been providing full names already, which come up when you search for your friends on the Foursquare network, but “when you click through to their profile page you don’t see their last name.” These have prompted comments from users saying this is confusing.

But it’s important to note here that Foursquare makes a point of noting “full names” in quotes. If you don’t want your full name on the network, it notes that you can update your own settings to set whatever “full name” you want.

Extended user data for businesses. Again, here Foursquare is couching the change as a move for more practical use: it says that businesses in the past were only able to view the last three hours of check-ins, in addition to most-recent and most-loyal users, but that many do not check their Foursquare data until the end of the day. Again, as with the “full name” setting, users can turn off the permission for business to see their data.

Foursquare does not specify how far back beyond three hours venues will be able to look but we’re asking and will update with whatever response we get.

Hello Foursquare community!

2012 has been a pretty huge year. We’ve released over fifty new features, welcomed nearly 15,000,000 new people to Foursquare, and had our 3,000,000,000th check-in. It’s a bit clichéd to say this, but your support really is what keeps us going day after day.

As our product evolves, one of the things we do is update our policies to match it. And a big aspect of that is privacy (something we think about a lot). This email lays out a couple changes that we’ll be making to our privacy policy in the coming month, and explains how they affect you and what you can do about it.

We know that privacy policies can be dense, so we put together a high-level document that we think of as our “Privacy 101.” It describes, in an easy-to-read way, how we build privacy into our product. While it doesn’t replace the legal need for the complete description of our privacy practices (which you can read here), we hope it helps you better understand how we think about privacy. We’ve also added new explanations of how privacy works throughout the app in our FAQs, including our default privacy settings and how they can be adjusted.

In addition to creating and refining those documents, we want to point out two specific changes to our policy, both of which will go into effect on January 28, 2013.

1. We will now display your full name. Currently, Foursquare sometimes shows your full name and sometimes shows your first name and last initial (“John Smith” vs. “John S.”). For instance, if you search for a friend in Foursquare, we show their full name in the results, but when you click through to their profile page you don’t see their last name. In the original versions of Foursquare, these distinctions made sense. But we get emails every day saying that it’s now confusing. So, with this change, full names are going to be public. As always, you can alter your ‘full name’ on Foursquare at https://foursquare.com/settings.

2. A business on Foursquare will be able to see more of their recent customers. Currently, a business using Foursquare (like your corner coffee shop) can see the customers who have checked in in the last three hours (in addition to the most recent and their most loyal visitors). This is great for helping store owners identify their customers and give them more personal service or offers. But a lot of businesses only have time to log in at the end of the day to look at it. So, with this change, we’re going to be showing them more of those recent check-ins, instead of just three hours worth. As always, if you’d prefer not to permit businesses to see when you check into their locations going forward, you can uncheck the box under ‘Location Information’ at https://foursquare.com/settings/privacy.

The Foursquare of today is so different than the first version that launched in 2009, and we appreciate that you let us continue to evolve and build our vision. This occasionally means altering our privacy policy. When we do, we make it a priority to come up with clear ways to help you understand your privacy choices, and to communicate them clearly. If you have any questions or want more details, head over to our updated privacy policy or support.foursquare.com.

Have a lovely holiday, and thanks for being part of the nearly 30,000,000-strong Foursquare community. We have a lot planned for 2013!

- Team Foursquare